Backing into The Race

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Reagan's advisers have been working on expanding his political base by having him publicly court women and Hispanic groups over the past few months. "He has to move to the center and beyond the Republican conservative core," says an aide. This may cause further erosion of enthusiasm among the true-believing right, but his staff feels conservatives will return to the fold when faced with a choice between the President and a Democrat. Reagan's men hope that he can increase the Hispanic vote from the 30% he got in 1980 to 35% next year. That would help him hold key states like Texas. They also hope he can retain the 40% or so of the blue-collar vote he received in 1980. He will be making a direct appeal to such voters despite former Vice President Walter Mondale's tight grip on organized labor's leadership.

The campaign has pretty much written off getting a significant black vote. Any gestures Reagan makes, like a public signing of the pending bill to make the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. a federal holiday, will be mainly designed to reassure moderate white voters. Strategists say that he will have to increase his white vote in the South from 59% in 1980 to at least 63% in 1984 in order to offset the heavy increases in black voter registration there. That will probably make a solid South for Reagan impossible. Instead, early planning for the South, and indeed for the rest of the nation, is based on a checkerboard approach of identifying key target states rather than hoping to sweep entire regions.

By early spring, Reagan's committee hopes to have strong organizations in at least 40 states, complete with voter identification and registration projects, to lay the groundwork for November. Even though he will probably have no serious primary opposition, Reagan will spend up to $21 million on the campaign prior to the party's convention in Dallas in July. This will help establish his message before the start of the general election campaign, in which each candidate is limited to about $30 million of federally financed expenditures.

Reagan's official entry into the race, of course, is no surprise. Despite the fact that at 72 he is the nation's oldest President, and even though his first three years have been marked by tough challenges and controversy, his health is good and his spirits high. He believes in what he is doing, aides say, and wants more time to get it done. "It's been apparent to him that this job he's assumed cannot be effectively done in four years," says Laxalt. Baker has an even simpler explanation of why Reagan is seeking a second term: "He likes the job."

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